My Advice for people aspiring to be artists or illustrators

A bit of my own story

I'm mostly self-taught in illustration. Why "mostly"? Well, let me tell you why.
It all started in 2009 when my dad sent me a surprise birthday gift: a drawing tablet.
I was teaching about computers in college, about programming in particular (something I also love)
The gift made sense as I was always making and creating stuff when being a little girl, and I never stopped. I had no idea drawing tablets existed. It was a super wow moment for me.

So, for the next decade I started illustrating in my own way, and even learned with some YouTube videos how to create seamless patterns and use them for fabric design. I had lots of fun.

At a point, I felt stuck.

I felt I wasn't able to express myself beyond the same structure I always did in my illustrations at the time. I felt I couldn't choose different colors, or make an interesting composition that wasn't my character in the middle of the canvas. I felt it was time to find where to study visual arts. I knew I wasn't going to find any illustration related career in my small town, so I was happy to find anything about Visual Arts.
I found there was a career, a Visual Arts professorship, so I entered.

The first year was really good, as I had my first interactions with paint on a very loose Painting I course where the teacher taught us to play as if we were kids with paints and experiment it. No techniques, but lots of experimentation and get to know lots of mediums.
The Drawing I course was good also as I had never tried to draw in any academic way, so we had to do lots of Still life drawings, and I learned a bit how to hold a pencil and shadow things. I got introduced to volume, perspective. My very first shy steps into that.
Then I had the History of Art, a huge summary, and I also had Composition I.
It was a very useful year to be introduced to Visual Arts.

The second year, I was totally disappointed by it. We were supposed to learn to paint in oils. But in Painting II we were left alone all classes and had to paint as we saw the still life there. So, we got no techniques and I thought I could totally do that myself at home... Drawing II was supposed to teach us how to draw portraits, and again, techniques (and you do have very specific techniques for drawing faces) were not taught, the teacher kept saying "you are doing great!". Let me tell you, I wasn't. I knew my drawing had NOTHING to do with the model not with any real part of a face haha.
But as I needed to end the year having 10 huge final portraits and 40 small portrait sketches to finish that course, when I found a private local artist that was willing to teach me how to draw, I was in.
Best investment in my whole life.
I've been taking portraiture lessons for about 5 years now, once a week.
As you can see, I've done most of my path on my own, but when I found and got this portraiture drawing teacher, it really paid off in time. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for all those drawing lessons and infinite patience and hard work.

Learning to draw, is KEY.
You will improve in all, ALL, your art areas if you learn to draw.
Doesn't need to be portraits. But learn to draw. Get a teacher.
Better if you find a local artist that has a realistic style to teach you how to draw.

So, of what I've learned so far, these would be all my tips to you, from my own experience:

  1. START doing creative stuff.
    Get a habit of having fun in a personal sketchbook/art journal.
    Start buying art tools and try them all, start to get to know different materials and techiques. Help yourself with searching Youtubes videos on how to use different materials.
    Examples get inks and watercolors and search how to do ink and wash drawings on Youtube.
    Get crayons and search for videos on how to paint flowers with crayons, and so on.
    Creativity feeds itself in the same process of creating stuff. Do not wait until you feel creative. You have to start the inner engine and then you won't be able to stop.
    You need to start creating by your own, anyway possible, cause creativity appears in the same process of creating.
    Start getting all kind of art materials and tools and start messing with them, trying them, having fun. In time, the more you do, the more your style will start to appear and bloom.
     
  2. Get a Drawing Teacher.
    For this, I really recommend you go somewhere face to face with an artist that teaches you how to draw. It won't be the same doing something online if the teacher won't see you working, your flaws, your strenghts, your progress. You really need to get as best as you can in your drawing skills.
    For me, online won't do for this particular skill as near as a personal teacher can do for you.
    Be ready to get highly frustrated also. And work hard, start over and over, it will pay off in time, believe me :)
    I think it would be better your teacher is a great artist in the realist style, cause he/she will have the skills already to teach you. Your eye needs to be trained along with your hand. You need to learn to see volume, shapes, proportions, angles, shadows, lights. Your hand needs to be trained to put those things out there in the paper. And both need to be trained in working together.
    I promise you, If you find a teacher and you can afford it, it will be worth it.
     
  3. Do some paid Online Courses
    Now after a while drawing, you can start doing online courses, I would recommend you do anything you find on art concepts. Rules of Composition, Fundamentals of Visual Arts. Try to learn about some main art movements thru the history of humankind. Search for anything free on such topics.
    But at some point, enter a paid online school (like SVS Learn, all the links below) or get some paid online courses from masters in the industry. The kind of course it will depend on what style or kind of work you are aiming to do. If you want to learn to paint in a more realistic way, with oils or acrylics, go to somewhere like William Kemp's online website, he has amazing courses.
    If you want to illustrate picture books for kids, definetly join the SVS online school, they are simply amazing and REALLY affordable.
     
  4. Focus on personal projects with Goals
    Put yourself goals like, I will draw 100 flowers, in ink, one each day. Or I will learn something new each week, for which I will buy first some art tools, then do some YouTube search, and then do some artwork according. Or I will think of a word, and make some artwork related to what that word makes me feel, every day on my sketchbook. And so on, but defining goals for yourself will really help you not only improving in arts, but to create a habit of doing it.
     
  5. CREATE. LOTS.
    Find you motivation and what pushes you to create. Find your way of making a habit of it.
    I entered myself into a local crafts fair making handmade and handpainted journals, for sale. Where, for 4 years I had to put my booth up and down every weekend, in the park, so climate was a thing for the artisans there. Where I wasn't able to not go, as you get a membership and you have to care for your assigned spot in fair. So, in those years I made and painted thousand journals easily. That really ignited my creative inner engine and started developing a fun style.
    That was my way, cause I needed to make some extra money at the time and thought that was a way for it. And you can't go and have nothing to put in your booth's table, so you will be forced to produce hahaha.
    You think well, and find your way. It may be doing some art when you have your breakfast. Whatever you do, be pragmatic on the way you need it to be so you can be consistent.
     


LINKS (I've used)
Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS)
An online school that is way affordable and which main focus is children illustration. Their founders and main teachers are professional illustrators and well known in the industry. Will Terry, Jake Parker, and Lee White. I've learned lots with them, and let me tell you, not only I really wish I found them earlier, but the more I get to know them, the more I love them.

William Kemp Art School

William has even a good YouTube channel of his own. I particular love his painting style. He has not only some courses in his personal website, but you can also find some courses by him in Lynda.com for example. Go check on him if you want to learn to paint with acrylics or oils for real.

Lynda.com

There are some great courses on how to use Photoshop for those that want to start working digitally. Buy yourself a Wacom tablet if you plan to work digitallly. A Wacom Cintiq would be what to get if you really want to be serious about it. But at least get a Bamboo model, small tablet from Wacom for starting out and have some digital fun.

Aaron Blaise

A former Disney animator, another master of many in this world. Go check his courses in his website and decide for yourself.

 

Creativity feeds itself in the same process of creating stuff. No excuses, go create.

 

** disclaimer: I got nothing from any of the websites and people I'm recommending in this post, I'm just sharing my personal opinion and what I love and what has been useful to me so far.

 

My Drawing tools for Portraits

I’ve been asked many times which pencils do I use for drawing my portraits.

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My favourite brand is KOH-I-NOOR and followed by Faber Castell (in particular their line Castell 900) I also like pencils like Stabilo or Lyra, when I need and can’t find the first two.

I use these pencil codes:
HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B
6B, 7B, 8B
H, 4H, F

I usually take a 2B or 3B to draw the first structure of the portrait, the first idea of shape and proportions, which I will for sure fix later. May use the hard and light pencils here, like the H or the F to make a first light grey layer of the whole skin of the face.

I’ll use 2B, 3B and 4B for adding later my first layers of finer detail (eyes, for example) and first shapes of shadows and lights.

Then, I will start working heavily on shadows, and I will use my darker pencils, from 6B to 8B.

I love KOH-I-NOOR ones as I feel them like soft pencils, you can easily make a gradient grey layer with one of them. They respond easy to pressure. I love that. And they are usually cheap here. Faber Castell, I love those too, but they are usually a bit more expensive.

The eraser I use is one of those kneadable erasers. I don’t have a particular favourite brand yet for them. I’ve been using Lyra for a while now. It’s ok for me.

Papers, are also important for drawing. You need some texture to it. If you try to draw in the usual copy paper, it won’t grab the graphite from your pencil, so it will make shadowing and erasing way more difficult if not quite impossible ha. I’ve been using paper from Canson, also from Conqueror (I think it’s from Fabriano) that’s the best I can get here in my town.

So, when you go out to buy some drawing paper, touch it with your fingers and feel its texture. It needs to have some texture to it, but not that much that you could actually see a texture pattern on the paper sheet as that it would interfere with your drawing, adding a whole final texture to the portrait you didn’t want to have.

Anyway, this is a short post, just let me know if you have any questions about my drawing tools :)

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Twitter Events and why I love them

 One I've made for #PortraitChallenge

One I've made for #PortraitChallenge

I remember at first I was shy and curious and totally lost on Twitter.
I had nothing to look at and got overwhelmed easily trying to find what to do in there.I spent like that, few months. While I kept using other social media.

Then I realize it, it hit me, Twitter is such an AWESOME place. It's a place where you can get connected with people that have your same interests. But in such active fun ways. So self-improving and at least so much fun.
Suddenly I had a reason to be there, I started searching illustrators. I just love the huge talent out there, such amazing artists, so many things to see.

I had hours during the week just checking on those fantastic artworks.
I remember my brain started seeing those hashtags. Yeah it said, people talk in organized ways so you can find what everybody is saying about a particular topic.

Oh it can be so much more. I love hashtags. I mean, such power in them.
As an artist and children's illustrator I found people doing Twitter events, using hashtags. To name a few: #colour_collective, #PortraitChallenge, #Inktober

Of course the list goes on, those are just few I particularly love :)

You get to do something according to what the organizer of the event says, or the rules, and then depending if you have to post all together at some day and hour in the week, or if you can take your time, you do your artwork following the guidelines and then, TA DA, you get to see what people did for that same event, they get to see yours. Such happy sharing experience.

Some Examples

For example, #colour_colletive posts a different colour each saturday, and the rule is to create something that has somehow that colour, any medium and post all together on fridays at 19.30 GMT. Anyone can join in. The Twitter account is @Clr_Collective.
Lots of awesome illustrators usually participate on that one.

#PortraitChallenge has less people, I guess cause well, drawing/painting portraits is indeed a challenge. But I particularly love it as it gives me a chance to keep practicing and improving and I even got engaged in doing two versions, a realistic one according to the image they provide (@StudioTeaBreak) on thursdays I think, and a more me-version of it (a catru-ish one :)

Those two go along the whole year, one new asignment every week.

But for #Inktober, oh well, that's now a global well known event, that runs thru 1 to 31 of October of every year (thanks to Jake Parker @mrjakeparker,  one of the teachers from @SVSLearn among other cool things) and the asignment here is to draw with traditional ink on paper, a drawing EVERY single day of October. The goal? to improve yourself on inking techniques. Really another awesome event.

 

To sum up

So, Twitter for me is something way beyond just showing pretty things and sharing. Is simply amazing how you get to do things with others that could be on the other half of the earth far away from you, and still share and participate together.
I LOVE it. I think it has become in the middle of the busy life we all have, one of my fave social media places :)

 

You don't know how to start even using Twitter?

In order to make Twitter something useful and awesome for yourself

1) Choose a topic: your passion, your career, your main hobby, I don't know, choose a topic that means the world to you.
2) Check who you want to follow that is an expert on your chosen topic.
3) Then start checking and looking for hashtags people in that topic is using and start checking on those. In some months you may end up using Twitter more than Facebook :D

My tools for Watercolors

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I’ve been asked several times so far, what do I use, what ink is it, what pens, what paper and so on.

So, when approaching a watercolor I usually draw first super lightly with a light pencil, especially to mark the structure of what I’m going to draw and paint. Not too much detail but I want to have quite well the structure of the subject/object. I will then use ink pens. I cannot get here in Argentina everything I’d love to get, or as cheap as it can be in USA for example, so that adds some adventure in getting many of my fave tools haha.
You can find a lot in the style I work googling about ink and washes.

Watercolor Paper

The best paper for watercolor is the one from the brand ARCHES. That one, unless I get someone who travels to USA or Europe and brings one block to me, it's really expensive in Argentina. For sure 4 times the value in dollars (then you do the math with our local currency and such, it ends up crazy)

So, I usually use way cheaper papers, but yet pretty decent ones. Like Fabriano or Canson. Good ones also if you want to start with watercolors. The thing is that for watercolors you really need a good paper. Really Good One. Period.
And that means among other things the paper MUST have tons or be pure cotton.
So, buy Arches if you can, else get something like Fabriano or Canson.

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Ink Pens

I work with PIGMA Micron pens for doing the fine line of ink in my watercolors. And I usually do it before coloring it. They won't bleed when you apply the water later upon the lines. I would use a Pentel Pocket brush if it wasn’t a bit expensive here (although I will buy one that I will cherish lol). The Pentel Pocket brush is a pen brush, that you can buy and change its ink cartridge. And you get a kind of ink brush ready to go. But that also would fall in my experimentation zone for now (and I haven't tried it yet so I can't tell if it will bleed later or not when applying the watercolors)

So, pencil first for the structure.
PIGMA Micron pens usually for doing all the ink line, and I use cross hatching a bit (inking techniques that I won’t discuss here so I don’t overwhelm you) and I do like organic gawky lines too.
I may erase a bit of the pencil lines after I’ve done all the inking.

Then I use upon all that, watercolors itself.

Watercolor Paints

My fave watercolors because of their quality, color duration, texture, and pigments itself, are the Winsor & Newton ones (they have many options; ideally you should get the Artist quality ones, but for starting out I'd go with their student quality ones). And for a cheaper version, I use the Reeves ones too, that have a nice quality-price relation. But if I could have all of them being Winsor & Newton... I wouldn't hesitate at all :D

I love working watercolors in layers, and usually I use 3 layers (that meaning, I paint overall, let it dry, paint another layer, let it dry, and paint the last layer) of course sometimes the artwork needs more layering. But for sure it will have 3 layers at least. Layering is really key to build the shadows in steps.

I tend to use wet on dry techniques more than wet on wet (watercolors techniques).

When you use the wet on dry (the brush is wet, the paper where you apply is dry) you end up having a lovely border, an outline in the color while you pass the brush, I love that).

When you use wet on wet (brush is wet, and you previously added a layer of water to paper making it wet, with a clean brush... or perhaps you're applying a new colour on a zone you already passed the brush and it's still wet) then you get this magical movements of the new colour in the wet surface, doing those happy accidents, that's how watercolourists call it :)

But I don’t have too many rules, I simply love and enjoy those splashy colors.
Personally, I think that in becoming a great artist, under any tool or technique, you need to develop your eye and your hand. Your eye to see shapes. To see light and shadows. To see details and yet to see simple shapes. To see beauty in the ordinary. To see volume. Then you practice tons to train your hand to be able to manifest the things your eye sees.

I hope I've tempted you and you start painting with watercolors too ;)